Wednesday, 6 February 2008

It is much worse than we thought (MUCH worse)

Yesterday I saw the end of the world.

More specifically at Tomrrow's Company I saw a repeat of this presentation (originally given to a cross party working group on climate change in the UK parliament), plus a presentation by a Cambridge professor of theoretical physics on 2006/07 data on the arctic sheet, where exactly this sort of first and second order feedback and acceleration are now starting to be seen. In scientific terms this is paradigm-shifting new knowledge discovery work of the first order. If it wasnt so terrifying it would almost be exciting. If you read one thing on the environment this year, I would recommend you read this report.

The result in the case of the arctic is that ice melting has reached a level which the linear models behind IPCC, Stern Report and so on didnt predict until the 2080s.

The potential result for the planet overall is a catastrophe beyond anything that's been considered so far; a potential mass extinction event which would take out according to the speakers "5/6 of the world's biota".

the non-linear effects are basically the acceleration which comes about when a set of processes have a tendency to reinforce themselves individually (first order) or each other (second order). A couple of examples:
- as atmospheric CO2 increases the sea gets hotter which means it absorbs less CO2, which increases atmospheric CO2 which leads to further heating
- as permofrost in Siberia melts it releases trapped methane, which is one of the most powerful greenhouse gases, which leads to further heating... (apparently this was observed this year, to the extent of huge "flumes" of escaping methane)

There are many positive feedback loops (acceleration) and no known naturally occuring major negative ones (damping). It still needs us forcing it along at this stage though. If it was just a one off event like a supervolcano eruption, radiation from a hotter atmosphere would cool the world down.

Think of it as like us pushing at a tree trunk which we have also been whittling away at - at some point the thing is simply going to fall over whether you keep pushing and whittling or not. That is the critical threshhold talked about in this paper. I studied the physics of non linear change at college, so I find it quite intuitive and easy to take on board, you might need to read this paper a couple of times although maybe not? - I think it does a masterful job.

This is not a new fringe theory. It is seen as the new central thrust of climate change science. It is the main thing which Al Gore now talks about. But it is new news compared to all the models driving current policy.

The important chart is the last one.

Think of our learning process in recent years as a sliding scale of worse and worse worst cases:

1. the loss of biodiversity, continuing the process of people ruining nature by chopping it down, desertifying it etc.

2. a shift in average temperature affecting global agriculture, especially in the hard to feed poor regions with rapid population growth such as sub saharan africa; a continuation of the 1980s recognition of humanitarian disaster

3. a shift in average temperature producing extremes of weather, a rate of Hurricane Katrina style global disasters which could bankrupt the global economy within 60 years according to one source

4. a raised sea level due to melting greenland icesheet, peak oil, cities and infrastructure in meltdown, a global emergency and significant social, economic and ecological collapse

5. global pandemics hit an environmentally stressed and overpopulated world (this is what is driving many amphibian species to extinction and a new theory says may be what actually did for the dinosaurs)

6. world war three fought over water; eg drought struck China invades Russia for Siberian water

7. non-linear effects, the critical threshold point, a potential new hot planet steady state, mass extinction

The difference between 1-6 and 7 is the recovery time. It jumps from a few thousand years, to NEVER.

There is a view that the disasters in 1-6 are actually going to be the negative feedback systems needed to stop all of this at the brink. A catastrophic collapse in human societies would stop the global forcing of climate change. But firstly we dont even know that's true (if it's enough at this stage). And secondly to go into those scenarios 1-6. knowingly would be an act of inhumanity unprecedented in the history of the most evil dictators and religious wars.

The implications for action are the same only more so. The Kyoto scenario takes us straight over the edge, because it was based on climate change models that took no account of feedback and acceleration. The survival pathway in these new models requires not just slamming on the brakes, but driving into reverse to back away from an oncoming threat.

I know many reading this will want to assume its not true, that there must be a catch. If it's that bad already, why was it possible to go around our daily routines as usual today? Why doesnt it LOOK like the end of days? Well if you watch the news, it is starting to look a bit like it. If it rained frogs in London tomorrow due to some freak weather event, would you really be as surprised as you should be?

One further point to bear in mind which I hadnt realised until yesterday although its pretty obvious when you think about it is that there is a 40-50 year lag between warming events and the planet actually getting hotter. It takes a long time to heat up oceans and landmasses. The global instability in weather and so on we are experiencing now is only the result of emissions and events in the 1950s-70s. Its clearly already extreme and has proved catastrophic in places, but everything has already accelerated greatly since that point and actually in terms of changes we are heading into under the business as usual scenario, this is actually very mild change.

The implications for culture are immense. This is THE apocalypse. Actually its even worse than that, in the apocalypse there is some sort of continuity of human culture in an afterlife, even if via a great battle etc. etc. This is ERADICATION - a 'we might as well never have existed' event. Legacy is all we have as any hedge against mortality, individually and collectively.

There have been times when individual civilisations have faced eradication and the destruction of their entire system of meaning, of any notion of legacy. It's a fate worse than individual or collective death, the prospect of discontinuity. The end. And faced with this prospect there have been some remarkble returns from the brink, for instance the Roman Empire in the 3rd Century (under Dioclitian/Constantine). Human societies do have an extraordinary ability to respond to catastrophic emergency. One speaker yesterday compared it to the ability of a shoal to respond in unison to threats.

I'm now working on a the beginnings of a scheme to help people 'get' on a mass scale what I heard yesterday. We dont have another decade for this to sink in. It's the only response I can think of where I can personally do something constructive beyond my current activities. Updates to follow when it's properly thought through. If anyone wants to help do drop me a line.

If you want to get the full briefing on all this there is a collection of papers prepared as a briefing for the Bali conference which you can order here

Sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings. My own view is that I'd rather know now than find out later when i could have done more. In fact I am slightly peeved that politicians have known all this for 7 months before we got to see this.


Anonymous said...

You can count on my unconditional support on this. Anything I can do, I'll do it.

Paul said...

Serious stuff. As you said in the post some people will just not believe it or choose to ignore it as the action needed to be taken is too much work and what they would call sacrifice. So the question is what to do from here.............

If any of the scenarios do happen we are all up to our necks in it, people not being able to drive their SUV to the shops will soon pale into insignificance. Of course by the time people wake up its normally too late, if you can see the bandwagon its already gone.

Anonymous said...

Oops - can only post anonymously for some reason.

You can count on my unconditional support on this. Anything I can do, I'll do it.

Andrew Smart

John Grant said...

It's actually beyond personal lifestyle decisions. There's no reason not to go on trying everything we are trying, including green marketing... But if its a state of emergency this means sweeping government action. There wont be any suv's. We'll have to get the bus to work locally and work will mean working on building a hydrogen and renewables eceonomy, with enforced scarcity and rationing of anything which isnt low to zero carbon. Horrible I know, but a rational response.

Andrew I am about to email you something. I am going to ask a mate to build the web 2.0 functionality but I'd love to get some help with the idea :J

Adrian said...

Hi John,

would love to help, I mailed you around this too.



gareth said...

Truly frightening stuff. If I can be of any help please let me know


Nick ( said...

A post which has really shaken me up. Would be very happy to help if you still need it.

John Grant said...

I am looking at two responses to that shocking new global warming science:
1. helping this group of scientists create a compelling, simplified public presentation (prob video) - we're meeting them to chat about this next week
2. a potential viral campaign/movement, which I'm developing with several blog readers and an internet company I work with called Ymogen who have offered to help/host it

I've had offers of help from groups as well as individuals, including planning for good and innocent smoothies. I'll keep you posted and the second one will require huge amounts of input, not to mention joining up & spreading the word :J

Anonymous said...

We are very much at the center of this reality in New Orleans. Thank you for this post.

El Gaffney said...

echoing the above, you have my support. i'll start thinking on #2.

neilperkin said...

This is really frightening. I read an article in New Scientist late last year that had the same effect on me. That talked about how we were about to pass some very significant tipping points beyond which many of the effects are irreversible. It's here:
I wrote about it at the time. We're catching up soon but I'd like to help if I can.

David Hawksworth said...

Hi John,

I'd love to hear more about the idea you are working on so when you have more to share I will put my thinking cap on to see if I can come up with anything that will help.

AKI SYSTEMS 2600 said...

Ready to pitch in a hand (or whatever) to make it happen with you.

Sir James Winnie said...

What type of things can the normal person do during their day to help?

Ben Rowe said...


You've ruined my week with this post - I've been able to think about nothing else.

I'd like to do anything possible to spread the word on this - So let me know if I can help.

We really need something to go mass, but virally spreading such a depressing idea is probably impossible.

I think the answer (if there is one) might lie with the younger generation, as they 'get it' much more than most. But I'm not quite sure how.

We also need leapfrogging technology to neutralise AND reverse our carbon emmisions. And we need Al Gore on steroids.

I'll do anything I can to help

I'd also be very interested to hear your friend Alex Wipperfurth's take on it.

John Grant said...

by the way isnt the blogosphere amazing, this story has now made it onto treehugger which is currently the 25th ranked blog in the world

A real scientist said...

I have been a climate scientist for nearly 20 years and have contributed to the IPCC for the last 14. This was one of the most dangerous presentations I have ever listened to and even more frightening that Grant falls for this politically motivated mantra. Wadsell's background is in human systems and follow's the Schellnhuber model of blinding people by mixing sound physical science with unquantifiable socio-economic hypotheses, which when combined in an articulate manner (as Wadsell did) present a convincing argument.

Grant, however, highlights his lack of understanding in the issues by the following sentence:

"The result in the case of the arctic is that ice melting has reached a level which the linear models behind IPCC, Stern Report and so on didnt predict until the 2080s. "

First off, the IPCC models are not linear they are processed based dynnamical models with a predictive capability. Second, Stern's reported merely reported on the IPCC science he didn't use any of these models, the only ones Stern used were economic.

Wadsell used a series of un-quantified diagrams to blind people into thinking he has worked out the problem, well he hasn't and pity on those who fall for this politically motivated mantra.

Why politically motivated? At the end of his presentation Wadsell let his guard slip as to his true motivation, he is a staunch advocate of population control and global governance. He uses the climate issue to justify this, as do the neo-cons in the US and sctors of the anti-globalisation alliance etc. The arguments he used for population control are flawed. I suggest that if he is such a vigourous advocate of population control he lead by example. Will Wadsell and those who support him go home a nd sterilise his children and their children or take on euthanasia once they stop being economically productive?.

Niko Herzeg (nomme du guerre) said...

Mr Grant,

I am offering to help any way I can. don't know in what capacity, since smarter people have offered to help, but this is very important indeed

John Grant said...

Hello 'real scientist'

If you are willing to leave the cover of anonymity I can send you the chart which the 2080 comment was based on - it's from Peter Wadham's presentation at Tomorrow's Company last week, not David's. My email address is in the about bit of the blog. Peter is theoretical physicist from Cambridge and also an IPCC scientist. He compared all the models used within the IPCC report with the actual rate of North Pole ice melting (they diverge).

Stern assumed the IPCC models were true. He did not assume a runaway heating scenario. And then looked at the economic costs/benefits. (Although if he had he would have concluded the same thing. Sort it out now).

I think some of your own political biases may be showing later in your comment. I didnt hear David Wasdell advocate population control. What he did actually suggest was a transition to a post oil (hydrogen and renewables) economy and work on ways to take carbon back out of the atmosphere.

I know new theories polarise scientific communities leading to fairly hostile debates, and for all I know you are what you say you are. The point I was making in my post was that no-one had told me that there was a view in the scientific community (apart from James Lovelock's) that climate change represented a total threat to the continuation of human life on earth.

I'm not a climate change scientist by any means, I am a blogger and was conveying my own concern at what the acceleration/feedback model says. I do know that another 'gullible individual and ill informed' person seems to have fallen for this point of view which is Al Gore, I saw him talking about feedback and acceleration at an event last month in his new veersion of his famous speech.

So are you REALLY a climate change scientist? - in which case you are very welcome and please do join the debate as a named individual - (or are you working for one of those dodgy US Exxon funded think tanks or lobbying firms in which case please do find a pair of shears and follow your own advice) :J

John Grant said...

if you want to read about accelerating effects first hand (the scientific evidence) here's a link to the Scientific American story on the ice at the North pole:

To quote this vs the IPCC models:
""The sea ice cover this year has reached a new record low," says Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo. "It's not just that we beat the old record, we annihilated it."

As a result of atmospheric patterns that both warmed the air and reduced cloud cover as well as increased residual heat in newly exposed ocean waters, such melting helped open the fabled Northwest Passage for the first time [see photo] this summer and presaged tough times for polar bears and other Arctic animals that rely on sea ice to survive, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Such precipitous loss of ice cover far outpaces anything climate models or scientists have predicted."

In his interview in time magazine last December Al Gore commented: "The north polar ice cap, according to the best scientists in the world, fell off a cliff this fall. The signs that the world is spinning out of kilter are increasingly difficult to misinterpret. The question is how to convince enough people to join a critical mass of urgent opinion, in the U.S. and the rest of the world.
Why hasn't that message been fully received yet?
I spend a lot of time asking myself that question. I think we're making progress; it's just that nothing has matched the scale of the response that is truly needed. The unprecedented nature of this crisis does make it difficult to communicate. We naturally tend to confuse the unprecedented with the improbable. But we have become capable of doing catastrophic damage without realizing it."

John Grant said...

Here's the article from the New Scientist Neil P pointed to (it's subscriber only on their site but was reproduced in full on several blogs):

Climate tipping points loom large - Fred Pearce
SOME climate tipping points may already have been passed, and others may be closer than we thought, it emerged this week. Runaway loss of Arctic sea ice may now be inevitable. Even more worrying, and very likely, is the collapse of the giant Greenland ice sheet. So said Tim Lenton of the University of East Anglia, UK, speaking on Monday at a meeting on complexity in nature, organised by the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge.
Lenton warned the meeting that global warming might trigger tipping points that could cause runaway warming or catastrophic sea-level rise. The risks are far greater than suggested in the current IPCC report, he says.
Yet climate modellers are in a quandary. As models get better and forecasts more alarming, their confidence in the detail of their predictions is evaporating.
The IPCC says the Greenland ice sheet will take at least 1000 years to melt. But Lenton’s group - whose members include John Schellnhuber, the chief scientist on climate change at the recent G8 meeting in Germany - says the sheet could break up within 300 years, raising sea levels by 7 metres. This would flood hundreds of millions of people or more out of their homes. “We are close to being committed to a collapse of the Greenland ice sheet,” Lenton says. “But we don’t think we have passed the tipping point yet.” The calculations show the Greenland collapse could be triggered by temperatures 1 °C warmer than today’s, of which 0.7 °C is already “in the pipeline”, held up by time lags in the system.
“We are close to being committed to a collapse of the Greenland ice sheet, but we don’t think we have passed the tipping point”
Lenton’s study has identified eight dangerous tipping points that could be passed this century. Several could have a cascade effect, with each triggering the next, he says.
The tipping points include a collapse of a global ocean circulation system known as the thermohaline circulation. Besides shutting down the Gulf Stream, this could also “switch off” the Asian monsoon and warm the Southern Ocean, perhaps destabilising the West Antarctica ice sheet. This would cause a further 7-metre rise in sea levels. Likewise, warming may cause a near-permanent El Niño in the Pacific, which would hasten a runaway burning of the Amazon rainforest and its disappearance by mid-century.
The existence of potential climate-change tipping points should dramatically alter economists’ assessments of how much climate change we should prevent, said Lenton. The trouble is, the discovery of tipping points has also unmasked growing uncertainty about the reliability of conventional climate models.
At the Cambridge meeting Lenny Smith, a statistician at the London School of Economics, warned about the “naive realism” of current climate modelling. “Our models are being over-interpreted and misinterpreted,” he said. “They are getting better; I don’t want to trash them per se. But as we change our predictions, how do we maintain the credibility of the science?” Over-interpretation of models is already leading to poor financial decision-making, Smith says. “We need to drop the pretence that they are nearly perfect.”
He singled out for criticism the British government’s UK Climate Impacts Programme and Met Office. He accused both of making detailed climate projections for regions of the UK when global climate models disagree strongly about how climate change will affect the British Isles.
Smith is co-author, with Dave Stainforth of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in Oxford, of a paper published this week on confidence and uncertainty in climate predictions (Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2007.2074). It is one of several papers on the shortfalls of current climate models.
Some authors say modellers should drop single predictions and instead offer probabilities of different climate futures. But Smith and Stainforth say this approach could be “misleading to the users of climate science in wider society”. Borrowing a phrase from former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Smith told his Cambridge audience that there were “too many unknown unknowns” for such probabilities to be useful.
Policy-makers, he said, “think we know much more than we actually know. We need to be more open about our uncertainties.” Meanwhile, the tipping points loom.

David Hawksworth said...

Hi John,

I have just posted a load of thoughts on how to re-package and promote this research. Could be way off the mark without knowing the brief but those of us that work in marketing get pretty used to working like that :) It felt like a good exercise and I hope there are a couple of ideas in there that you can use.

David Hawksworth said...

I can't paste the link so you can use this...

John Grant said...

thanks David, there's some really helpful thoughts and ideas in that post. I have a meeting to discuss a potential video with the scientists next week, if that goes well may be bothering you to join a working party! I love the idea of a crowd sourced airtime buy for a start :J

David Hawksworth said...

sounds good - hope the first meeting goes well.

John Nissen said...

Hello John,

I was at the presentation to Tomorrow's Company on Tuesday. With this global emergency situation we need a plan of action, and leadership to pull it through. Failure is not an option.

Unfortunately we have to do more than reducing emissions. I wrote the following to the distinguished climate scientist, Professor Jim Hansen of NASA GISS, who I briefly met on Thursday:


Dear Professor:

You suggest a reduction of CO2 to 350ppm. My concern: Emissions reduction is not enough

I told you I was worried by existing positive feedback, particularly from the albedo effect of melting of the Arctic sea ice, whose summer extent could vanish by 2013 or earlier. You said you thought that the positive feedback would change into a negative feedback when GHG levels were reduced. But the albedo feedback is driven by temperature, not GHGs. Thus if we reduced emissions to zero tomorrow, the feedback forcing would continue, the temperature would continue to rise, and the feedback would continue to get stronger.

I fear that, once the summer sea ice is gone, the regional albedo effect will be sufficient to ensure the continued acceleration of Greenland ice sheet melt, with the possibility of a sudden sea level rise of a metre or two if the ice sheet becomes unstable. Meanwhile, the albedo effect could push up global temperatures, to melt tundra, permafrost and lakes containing trapped methane, providing further positive feedback.

Albedo forcing is implicated in the Milankovitch cycles, to amplify relatively small changes in insolation. So how much is the albedo forcing of Arctic sea ice?
1. The Arctic sea may have provided negative forcing to end periods of global warming in the past;
2. It is claimed that the combined forcing of the Arctic and Antarctic albedo effect has already grown to the level of anthropogenic forcing;
3. Glacier mass loss has accelerated by about 100% per decade since 1985, whereas CO2 forcing has only grown about 30% per decade, and positive feedback from the albedo effect could account for the difference.
4. Calculations suggest that the albedo effect of zero Arctic sea ice would be 1-2 Watts per metre squared, averaged over the planet and the year.

It seems that we are observing the beginnings of the climate system tipping into a super hot state, and we may be within a few years of the point of no return.

Thus, it is necessary both to reduce emissions and to apply geo-engineering and bio-engineering techniques on a massive scale and on a timescale to avoid positive feedback overwhelming our ability to redress the planet's energy imbalance. We are setting up a group to consider an appropriate plan of action. Could we have your support?


John Nissen, Chiswick, W4

Anonymous said...

Temperatures have fluctuated on this planet since the start of time man. We are in an 'interglacial' period at the moment, and at some point wil again return to a glacial period.

NASA recently announced that substantial changes are occurring on the surface of the Sun which could bring about the next long lasting cold era.

“When the surface movement slows down, sunspot counts drop significantly. And when we have sunspot counts lower than 50 it means only one thing - an intense cold climate, globally,” Casey said.

John Grant said...

it's funny how in the last year the climate change deniers look more and more isolated and pathetic, it never would have taken a week in 'the old days' for some idiot to post 'natural cycle' type nonsense

if anybody in the world still doesnt know, there is no serious scientific dispute left about manmade global warming whatsoever

I'm tempted to just delete this stuff but am leaving it here as a kind of curiosity, an echo of 2006 or so (remember the Channel 4 programme...?)

by now it has all the credibility (and moral substance) of denying that smoking is linked to cancer

shame on you anon - and presumably you are ashamed or you would publish real contact details so that we can come and write on your blogs

ps I will delete further climate change denier posts, they offend me given the severity of the problems, one is plenty thank you

John Nissen said...

Thanks John

I believe the message behind people who deny global warming is that we should do nothing. To such people, I suggest that they examine the precautionary principle, which is very well expounded here:

Paul said...

In response to the climate change denier, the best course of action with these people is not to engage in a discussion or argument.

If you do engage with them you give validity to their view. Evolutionists have the same stance with intelligent designers and its why they wont openly debate them on the facts.

I look at it like if someone told me they thought Santa was real or that smoking was good for you, I just wouldn't bother to explain my point, people like this don't respond to logic.

John Grant said...

I agree

(except for the bit about Santa who is of course real and majorly pissed off about the melting of his ancestral home - I heard a rumour that there may be nothing in the world's stocking next year...)


Anonymous said...

Brilliant what you're trying to do. Shocking post, but in many ways it's shocking that it's not as shocking as it should be... if you get my drift.

On thing I would be careful of in trying to reach people and go viral, is that already people are getting eco-apathy. I've seriously heard people say things along the lines of "well if we're all screwed anyway I'm going to the Bahamas and driving my 4x4 anyway". People have to be shocked, but also given hope and something they can do about it. Even if this thing actually isn't that important in itself, it will help people feel they are contributing to the solution and prevent people giving up because they think we're all doomed whatever we do.

Lizzie Whitebread

John Grant said...

Lizzie I thin k thatäs a really important point and one I have certainly been wrestling with.

In the interests of having that debate... arent there several points that might need to be unbundled and thought through separately?

1. the need for people to feel that they can be part of the solution, involved, take action, have hope

2. the extent to which under any reading of the climate data/model it looks unrealistic that disaster could be averted eg because what needs to be done is too great to be considered realistic givent the current starting point and political-commercial-social realities

3. the use of viral communications, ie those that pass between people in a cascade rather than conventional channels only

There's a lot to think about and debate within each heading.

What I am not considering at the moment is letting loose a 'doomsday' message which fell foul of 1 & 2, rather I had in mind an involvement campaign (an analogy would be the 'make poverty history' campaign) where people became a growing visible 'vote' for action by large institutions. And there is further thinking to be done about this.

It's 2. that worries me most & I think you are right to raise it - responsible communications would include the truth that we DONT know for certain what the worst case scenario is - but would acknowledge that the range of scenarios which fit current climate data (even if only working with IPCC) all indicate fairly drastic action is needed. And drastic consequences if it is not taken soon. That's not news, but it's not uppermost in the public mind and political agenda in the way it was a year ago.

Lots to think about.

Paul said...

I just came across this link which covers

"The unusual warmth in 2007 is noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum and the equatorial Pacific Ocean is in the cool phase of its natural El Niño-La Niña cycle."

Seems to be getting worse.........

John Grant said...

Yes I heard that too, I think they (broader community of climate experts) find it hard to agree why there was such an anomoly and I am sure I'm not qualified to judge... but a common sense view says it's a bit wierd (as were the 13C spring conditions in uk this week, or more seriously the worst snow in China in 50 years, carpeting desert and subtropical regions).

Anonymous said...


John Grant identifies three issues:
1. the need for people to get involved;
2. the extent to which, under any reading of the climate model, averting disaster looks impossible, given current politics and socio-economics;
3. use of viral communication.

I'd like to tackle the second point. There are many readings of the climate model, ranging from the anthropomorphic global warming deniers, through IPCC, Jim Hansen (NASA GISS) to Peter Wadhams and David Wasdell, and then on to Albert Kallio (FIPC) and myself. The deniers say we should do nothing. The IPCC and Jim Hansen say we should reduce emissions, and all will be OK if we do not allow the temperature to rise more than 1 degree (Hansen) or 2 degrees (IPCC). Peter and David say we face the collapse of civilisation and a 6th extinction event if we do not act quickly because of positive feedback in the climate system. We probably have to employ bio-engineering techniques (such as biochar or agrichar) to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, in addition to drastic emission cuts. Albert and I are concerned about the positive feedback already starting to dominate the system, especially as regards the albedo effect as the Arctic sea ice melts in summer. Thus we believe that averting disaster involves geo-engineering to save the sea ice, as well as drastic emission cuts and bio-engineering.

If you take the position of IPCC or Hansen, then greedy/selfish people in the world will continue with business as usual, and averting disaster looks impossible. (Consider the lack of progress at Bali.)

If however you take the position of Peter, David, Albert or myself, then either we succeed in averting disaster or we are all doomed. If this position is accepted across the world, then everybody will want success and survival. When they realise the enormity of the challenge faced by humanity, everybody should pull together to fight the common enemy, which is global warming. Failure is not an option.

On the precautionary principle, the latter position has to be taken. And the timescale for action has to be "as soon and as quickly as conceivable". Time is against us, as Paul points out. The solar radiation is about to rise, adding to the climate forcing which we are trying to counter, see:
Temperature data for 2007

Furthermore, recent sighting of the first sunspot of reversed polarity… signifies that the ~ 4-year period of increasing solar irradiance is about to get underway.

Edward said...

Hi John,
I highly recommend you read: "Break Through: The Death of the Environmental Movement". It opens by telling the story of Martin Luther KIng's "I have a dream speech", which he actually began with "I have a nightmare" until he changed course to the speech that changed history.

My point is simple. Your post is the "I have a nightmare" version of the speech. We need to find the dream. The end of the world isn't a very motivating thought. I'd love to help find the dream with you any way I can. Let me know how I can help.
Ed Reilly

John Grant said...

I've heard that point made before (although i didnt know it was also being copied from that book) - anyway it's a superficial view if you ask me (and you put it on my blog, so in sense yes you did ask me :)

I dont know anyone who is serious about the problem who doesnt think we should solve it. But what bearing does your personal feeling of discomfort have (about what scientists I have met think is the truth of the matter - I was just trying to spell out what they were saying, although they themselves used the words 'mass extinction')?

I do however know the "I have a dream speech" extremely well - it's something I have studied - how he got such rousing passion into the musical rhythm, the repetition and prophetic writing. How he got his very difficult to hear message across.

Here's some samples:

"But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition."

"We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children."

"As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."

I have a dream in other is not a simplistic speech about focusing on the possibility or optimism or ignoring the painful truths as some seem to think it was (working only from the title - as if it were somehow confused in their minds with john Lennon's "Imagine"?).

It is the thundering voice of the dispossessed, the spat upon, the angry and yet dignified black people of America - brought there in chains - who through their very dignity in suffering have by now in the eyes of the speaker already won the moral argument.

And even in the midst of all that darkness, yes he has a dream:

"I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

All I can say is amen to that. There are several hundred posts on this blog. I'd guess that less than 1% are about the problem. But if you wont take the problem seriously, realise in a fully human sense what a faction among the leading climate scientists are saying we are doing...?

I havent heard anyone say it is too late to avert this disaster. But I have heard many voices (Al Gore's included) bewailing the fact that so few seem to appreciate that this is an EMERGENCY.

Finally what I wrote was my authentic emotional response to what I had just heard. I didnt stick it on the front page of a newspaper, I wrote it on my blog; and it caused some interesting reactions.

Edward said...

Wow John,
Either you aren't aware of the book's premise, or you misunderstood me, or possibly, I'm an idiot. Probably the later. In fact, "Break Through" acknowledges the "EMERGENCY" and is trying to find a way to motivate the masses to do something about it. All in all, didn't mean to offend.
Good luck,

John Grant said...

It's not personal Ed you just touched a nerve. I'm all for most of what that book is about. But I am not for hiding the painful truth of how seriously bad the situation may be, you cant empower people while hiding information from them and motivation is born much more out of a gripping sense of necessity as nice feelings. Martin Luther King knew all of that too, he didnt pull his punches.

Having said which 'we're all doomed' absent a call to action or any chance of remedy would be silly (counterproductive and also not justified by the evidence either way) and if that was the point you wanted to make I agree.

Anonymous said...

From " A Real Scientist"
John apologies for being anonymous, I work for a UK Govt. Agency, so I can convey science but not personal opinion, hence anonimity. I am far from being a sceptic I am one of the original scientists in the UK who has for almost two decades communicated the science of CC to society. Any how!
You stated that Stern assumed that the selection of models upon which his report were based were "true". Stern used results from physically based models that represent the enviornment and climate and economic models. The Stern report does include caveats about the models used. Economic models in particular are not based upon physical laws and the socio-economic system is not predictable, contrary to what Wadsell and Schellnhuber would have you believe. You also indicate that you think that Wadsell's conceptual model is "true"!

Also the results from climate model experiments are scenarios, not forecasts! There is a big difference here.

Stern did not include a runaway heating scenario as no models to date show this, however the hypotheis is sound, but if we look at high-impact low probablility events we also need to give equal weight to ET impacts and major geophysical events as well. At the moment the IPCC estimates are classed as high probablity, with recognisable damaging though not planet threatening impacts.

I was at the Tommorow's company briefing, Wadsell during the questions strongly advocated population control, hence my comments to Wadsell and any other advocates of such measures. Practice what you preach on yourself and family.

With regards Wadsell being an IPCC Author, I can only find mention of him as a reviewer not an author. You use Al Gore as an example, a question to debate is whether Al has through slight exageration damaged the credibility of climate scientists (Al remember is not a climate scientist).

With reference to the post from the scptic and the eply that they should be ignored this is generally valid. Howvere I came across a sceptic at a recent public event where I was speaking. I had a good chat with him afterwards. I gained a useful insight into what was driving his scepticism. This was not driven by a love of US policies, but rather surprisingly he was an anti-globalisation environmentalist.
He was concerned that the CC was being used to develop a system of global governance and a removal of indiviual liberty. One example of this is personal carbon credits. Such as system would require an extra dimension to state control.

Also there is alos the argument, advocated by scientists like Mike Hulme that creating Alarmism will lead to people turning away and accepting that as an individual that they can not do anything. I personally feel that we are already passed the point of no return. BUT I do not support any actions that use the CC issue to support a political ideology, whatever it's colour.

Any how hope this helps.

John Grant said...

very thoughtful & thought provoking comment

I'm sorry to have been so sceptical last time you posted, in my experience there is a lot of dubiously motivated commentary around these issues

wasnt there for the q&a, but saw wasdell the following week and he certainly disavowed that population view - agreed he was an IPCC reviewer - agreed Al Gore gets flack at times

unusually for blogging I'd like to reflect on what you've said before replying

thanks for sticking with us

my main interest is in the gap between what most models (including the spread within IPCC) suggest needs to be done and any evident action; how to mobilise people, companies, governments


Seth Campbell said...

What an eyeopening and inspiring post, there are so many ostensibly intractable issues at hand here in my youthful head, its great to see so much insightful debate.

I would love to help in any way possible, keep track, and hopefully contribute to developments.

- how to convert potentially apolyptic information into positive, motivated, binding and productive societal behaviour really gets the cogs turning.


Anonymous said...

A rapid response US NASA style program is needed to get the world off the dime. Legislation will take 30 to 50 years to reach the average consumer whose life style is a major contributor to greenhouse gas production. I have been proposing such a plan for some time now called the, "Global Open Source Initiative" or GOSI for short. I have also put together a companion piece called the, "Ten Components". You can download both from . If you believe that GOSI represents a potential solution, please promote it wherever you can. I agree with Dr. Hansen, we have a very small window of opportunity to avoid catastrophe.

Sumner R. Andrews Jr.